Hokkaido Day 4 (Lake Akan) (17 Feb 17) – Walking on the Frozen Lake Akan and A Trip to the Tancho Conservation Centre

The main reason for including Lake Akan as a destination in our Hokkaido trip is to visit the Akan International Crane Centre, where we will be able to see Tancho Cranes, a symbol of Japan. I visited the Akan Tourism Information website and the Akan Tourist Information Centre Facebook page when planning for our trip to Lake Akan. These sites provides great suggestions on the day tours they provide as well as what can we do in Lake Akan. Other than making a trip to Akan International Crane Centre, Akan Tourist Information Centre organises a morning walk on Lake Akan during winter, which we opted for as this is the only other tour that fits into our schedule in Lake Akan
The elegant Tancho Cranes is the reason that brought us here to Lake Akan

Morning Walk on Lake Akan

I thought it would be a good experience walking on a frozen lake. We met our guide at Akan Tourist Information Centre at 6.30am. We were told that we will not see frost flower due the temperature on Lake Akan is warmer than expected at 0℃. Our guide also told us that Lake Akan is warming up as the winter season is coming to an end. Despite not able to see frost flower, we were not disappointed as walking on a frozen lake is a first time experience for us. Prior to bringing us further in to the 13 km sq Lake Akan, our guide brought us to an area nearer to the shore of the lake, explaining to us that beneath the 1m snow covered lake lies a 7m think ice that occurs every winter when Lake Akan freezes. Only when achieving this thinking can the lake be sufficiently stable for activities such as walking, smelt fishing, ice skating and snowmobiling to take place. The guide also brought us to some tents explaining to us how smelt fishing works, before heading out further into Lake Akan to the nearest island Kojima Island to shore. By the time we were at Lake Akan, the sun seem to have risen. I was a little disappointed not able to catch sunrise over the frozen lake. Nonetheless, that did not deter me from having a great time walking on the frozen Lake Akan. As we were walking towards Kojima Island, our guide explained that there are four islands on the lake, with Churui Island being the only island that visitors can visit the Marimo Exhibition Centre. Marimo is a rare growth form of the moss where the algae grow into large velvety looking green balls. These green moss balls has became the mascot of Lake Akan.
First step onto the frozen Lake Akan
Taking our first wefie on the frozen Lake Akan
A block of ice that was extracted from Lake Akan. Our guide explained the ice beneath the snow covered frozen Lake Akan
Our guide showing us a block of ice extracted from the frozen lake
Ice skating ring on Lake Akan
Tents that people can use to shield themselves from the cold lake breeze while smelt fishing
Marimo balls, icon of Lake Akan, on display in the hotel

As we were walking on Lake Akan, I was mesmerised by the beautiful landscape on surrounding Lake Akan, walking towards Kojima Island, in front of me stood Mt Oakan, which the locals call it the male mountain. Behind us is Mt Meakan, otherwise known locally as the female mountain. Our guide told us these mountains surrounding Lake Akan seemingly guarding the lake are active volcanoes, though they are less active these days. He also mentioned that the female Mt Meakan is called female as she is “hotter” and more active compared to the male Mt Oakan. Beyond the coast of Lake Akan lies the largest island on the lake. As we came near to Kojima Island a pungent smell hit me. Our guide then brought us to the source of the smell, a small puddle of unfrozen water. Our guide explained that this unfrozen water is a hot spring with temperature reaching the region of 60℃.

We walked a long way from the onsen town to Kojima Island
The Akanko Onsen town with the female Mt Meakan
My friend on Lake Akan with the male Mt Oakan in the background
Mt Oakan seen from the frozen Lake Akan
Me with Mt Oakan
Kojima Island
Me with Kojima Island at the background
Taking a wefie with our guide on the frozen Lake Akan
Mt Oakan and the frozen Lake Akan
We are near Kojima Island, the nearest island to Akanko Onsen
Hot spring water near Kojima Island and Mt Oakan at the background
My friend and I taking a wefie with Mt Oakan on the frozen Lake Akan
Clearer view of Akanko Onsen and Mt Meakan

After taking some pictures, we took a different path back to where we came from. Walking through the forested area of the shores of Lake Akan, our guide instructed us to follow his footsteps as the snow in some parts can reach as deep as thigh level (which he demonstrated to us by stepping into one of them). Along the way he pointed out some foot prints left behind by foxes that ply through this area at nights. Our guide stopped by a tree and pointed out a mark exclaiming that this was left behind by a bear. As it is winter, bears are deep in their hibernation cycle so it is safe for us to transverse in this area. Our trip on the frozen Lake Akan ended when we reached where we came from and we bid farewell to our guide, heading back to the hotel to grab breakfast.

In other seasons, this sign would be standing in front of the Lake Akan waters
Forested area around Lake Akan
Animal footprints
Taking a wefie at the forest
Claw marks left behind by bears
View of the frozen Lake Akan from the forest trail
Frozen Lake Akan from the forest trails
Lake Akan signage
One last look at the frozen Lake Akan. We had fun walking on the lake despite the freezing climate
Smelt fishing tents with Mt Meakan

 

Snowman on Lake Akan
Ainu ice sculpture on Lake Akan
Mt Meakan
Some mandarin ducks swimming on the unfrozen Lake Akan
The frozen Lake Akan. Walking on it was a great experience, we were treated with unspoilt views of the lake and the mountains surrounding the lake
Frozen Lake Akan from outside our hotel
Ainu sculpture outside our hotel

Visiting the Symbol of Japan – Tancho Cranes

After breakfast, my friend and I made our way to Akan Bus Terminal to catch the bus that would bring us to the Akan International Crane Centre. This day trip is a self guided tour where Akan Tourist Information Centre sells us tickets to the Crane Centre that includes bus transfer to the crane centre, entrance to the crane centre, a lunch in a restaurant nearby and entrance to art museum. The Akan International Crane Centre is a large farm field where large flocks of Tancho Red-crowned Japanese cranes would come during winter months for mating. The Akan International Crane Centre is located in the mid-point between Akanko Onsen and Kushiro City. The main building is the first thing that greeted us at the Akan International Crane Centre. Instead of going through the exhibits inside the building, my friend and I headed straight the the outdoor conservation area to see the cranes, hoping to see the crane dance, which male Tancho cranes displays when mating with female cranes. As soon as we reached the outdoor aviaries, we spotted a number of the tall-slim long legged elegant Tancho Cranes. The red spot on top of their heads seem to give a sense of royal flare to these crane. The Japanese regard Tancho Cranes as a bird of happiness and is believed to live for 1000 years. There were a lot of photographers at the outdoor aviaries, hoping to catch the cranes in action. The outdoor aviaries were designed to mimic a natural environment for the Tancho Cranes, against the backdrop of the nearby mountain ranges, the Tancho Cranes looked comfortable calling this place home. The Tancho Cranes does not seem to mind sharing their home with flocks of geese.

After a 45 mins bus ride from Akanko Onsen, we finally reached the Akan International Crane Centre
Signage in front of the Crane Centre
This poem was left behind by one of the royalties of Japan
The main entrance to Akan International Crane Centre
Akan International Crane Centre. We can’t wait to see the Tancho Cranes
Tancho Cranes sharing the same place as geese
Me with the Tancho Cranes in the background. They seem well hidden with the snowy landscape
Tancho Cranes
These cranes are looking for food
My friend with Tancho Cranes in one of the outdoor aviaries
Most of the time we were there, these cranes were seen looking for food in the snow
Tancho Cranes
The red-crowned Tancho Cranes, a symbol of Japan
The elegant Tancho Cranes. This crane is also used as a symbol of Japan Airlines

There seem not much action in this aviary with the Tancho Cranes, most of the time they were burying their heads in the snow, looking for food. My friend and I headed for the next door larger aviary located in front of the 2 storey Tancho Observation Centre. More photographers gathered here seemingly waiting for something to happen. I managed to catch the Tanchos in action, as though it is trying to display the crane dance to one of the other cranes. Occasionally a few of these birds soar into the sky as though they were irritated by their neighbours. At around 1pm, a few hawks was spotted circling the sky above the aviary, waiting for the cranes to be fed fishes and swoop in to snatch the fishes with the cranes.

Tancho Crane in flight
Tancho Cranes in flight
One of the cranes doing the crane dance
One of the cranes doing the crane dance
One of the cranes doing the crane dance

 

After seeing some Tanchos in action, my friend and I left the Crane Centre to grab some lunch. As the next bus will be some 2 hours later, we headed for the Kushiro Shitsugen Museum. This museum displays the works and personal belongings of a well-known marshland painter. Although we are not art lovers nor are we museum goers, we still could appreciate the artworks. Going through the paintings, I can’t help be wonder how the painter was able to come up with such a creation. With simple strokes of the brush, and some spots of white paint against orange or dark blue background, I was still able to tell that the white speck of paint are the Tancho Cranes. What impressed me most is the large 2 panel paintings, where the shades of colour spread consistently across both canvases as though they are one big painting. The museum isn’t too big, it took us 20 mins to finish the museum (I guess we would have spent more time in the art museum if my friend and I are art lovers). As there are 1.5 more hours to kill, we went back into the Akan International Crane Centre.

Grabbing lunch at the nearby restaurant across the road from Akan International Crane Centre
Visiting the Kushiro Shitsugen Museum
The snow landscape outside Kushiro Shitsugen Museum

Instead of going for the outdoor aviaries, my friend and I spent the rest of our time going through the exhibits in the main building. There is an exhibition hall that relates the life cycle and the anatomy of Tancho Cranes and their structure from young to adulthood. The main building also housed a laboratory where chicks can be observed through the one-way glass. However at the time of our visit, we did not get to see these chicks. My friend and I headed back to the bus stop for the bus back to Akanko Onsen. Alighting the bus, we were thrilled to welcome the somewhat heavy snowfall.

Exhibits inside Akan International Crane Centre where we learnt more about the life cycle of the elegant Tancho Cranes
My friend studying the exhibit inside Akan International Crane Centre
Inside the main building of Akan International Crane Centre
Waiting for our bus to arrive to send us back to Akanko Onsen
Finally the back arrived
It was snowing heavily when we reached Akanko Onsen
Me with the snow in Akanko Onsen

Outdoor Onsen Under the Snow

After dinner, my friend and I head straight to the sister hotel next door to try out the outdoor onsen on the 1st floor, which was designated as the female spa last night. It is scheduled for male patrons tonight. After soaking in some of the indoor onsen baths, my friend and I headed out into the outdoor onsen baths. It was still snowing outside. Only the initial walk from the indoor to the bath was cold, one I entered the 40℃ onsen pool, it was very comfortable and relaxing and seem to take away the fatigue from the walks during the day. The outdoor bath was designed with like a natural bath with artificial stones underneath a tree. It is very refreshing soaking in onsen in the snow. What I like about soaking onsen in the outdoors under the cold weather is it does not make me feel warm easily. We stayed in the onsen longer than we expected and moved to the onsens indoor before calling it and headed back to our room to pack up. We will be leaving for our next destination, Abashiri, early in the morning tomorrow.

My friend holding a Marimo Ball in the hotel
Me with the Marimo ball tank
The indoor onsen area on 1st floor at the sister hotel Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga (taken from the hotel’s website (http://www.tsuruga.com/en/) as we are not allowed to bring camera into the onsen)
The outdoor onsen area on 1st floor at the sister hotel Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga (taken from the hotel’s website (http://www.tsuruga.com/en/) as we are not allowed to bring camera into the onsen)

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